Time is passing me by here people!! I really gotta step up my game, get down to business, kick butt and take names, insert additional cliche phrase of your choice here ...
I have now been in London for five months today! I've travelled to quite a few cities around England as well as Holland, Belgium, and this past weekend to the Czech Republic. I'm well on my way to hitting my goal of five countries by the end of 2011. I really am getting a great appreciation for the history that all of these European cities have that is so different from my own countries beginnings. I think Prague is probably one of the most picturesque cities I have visited. It was one of the only cities that survived the war relatively unscathed and the buildings definitely reflect that. Many of the streets are the original cobblestone, complete with narrow passageways and sculptures on every corner.
I've decided that I'm always going to at least try to take public transport whenever I visit a new city. Granted it's not always easy when you're trying to read signs that are in a foreign language but I think its worth giving it a shot. It's far less expensive then trying to take cabs everywhere and if you can master it you can really widen the scope of your visit because its so much easier to get around to all the sites. I easily navigated from the airport to my hotel via the 119 bus and a few changes on the Metro. I stayed on a boat hotel on the river, the Boat Hotel Matylda. The room was small but very modern and the hotel staff was really helpful and friendly. Breakfast was served on the other boat and was great each morning to get me started and then a LONG day of walking until it was time to go - BACK TO THE BOTEL (not sure if anyone else has the song I have in my head when I say that! ha ha).
I thought that I might have run into more issues not speaking the language in Prague but as in most tourist centers of major cities pretty much every one I came into contact with did speak at least enough English to communicate. Almost makes me feel guilty being in their country and not having mastered at least the basic phrases but the Czech language is not exactly the easiest to master. I did try a word here and there but I think I only succeeded in completely butchering their language (my apologies to the Czech people by the way).
I spent most of my time wondering around, although on my second day I did join one of the many free tours that you can pick up off the main square in Old Town. They basically work for tips and the one I joined was a three hour walking tour mostly around the sites in Old Town and then ending at Prague Castle. I'm not sure how accurate all the historic facts were but the guide was great and I loved the way she told the cities stories and legends. One Czech tradition that she seemed to love telling is of "defenestration" or throwing people from high windows to their deaths. The incidences that have been recorded throughout history were instances of revolt but it is interesting how it does repeat itself in the history of the city. From my tour I learned two lessons: 1. Stay away from windows on high floors when in Prague and 2. Anything was possible in the 1400s which was the time of magical happenings.
I spent the last day in Prague visiting the sites around the Jewish quarter. I paid 200 Czech Crowns to get a pass to visit several of the sites around the area. The first was a memorial center where the names of all the Jewish people that died written on the high walls of three rooms. A voice is on the speaker reading through each of the names and the recording takes three days to read off all the names. There was also a room of children's drawings, some that depicted typical scenes of any childhood artwork and others showed scenes that were unique to the Jewish ghetto from the time period- it was very touching. I also visited the Jewish Cemetery that was also a very interesting site, with tombstones stacked one on top of the other. Since they were only allowed the small plot of land for all their burials, the bodies were stacked many high to make room.
With each city I visit I feel like I learn more about the world but also a better understanding of my place in it. It makes you realise how different people are and how we each come from our unique place and time in history. I'm very lucky for the opportunities I have been given in life and even though I have loved taking every step of my journey I am so fortunate to take, I also know there's a lot to be said for going home. And where is my next holiday you may ask --- well there is NO PLACE LIKE HOME! Happy Independence Day!